Democrats this year have tried to disrupt multiple GOP primaries, using ads that appear to be attacks on more extreme candidates as a way to subtly promote those contenders. The idea is to line up opponents that the Democrats believe will be easier to beat in the general election.
But Tuesday’s vote was the first to suggest the closeness of the result – Trump’s endorsed challenger John Gibbs with 52 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns – may have swayed the mood of the Democrats top the results.
Now, the Democrats will see if the Democrats will win the seat they hold to take out President Peter Meijer in November. No matter what happens, critics say the the attempt to reinforce Gibbs is reckless and undermines the Democrats’ argument that they are the party that stands for democracy.
“It’s cynical and dangerous,” said Richard Hasen, a UCLA law professor and director of the Project for the Defense of Democracies. “We know that the Trump wing of the Republican Party is doing a lot to undermine people’s confidence in the fairness and integrity of elections. The idea that Democrats would be willing to gamble on electing more of these people because they think it will be easier to beat them in the general election is really playing with fire.”
Some of the criticism came from within the party.
Michigan’s Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who has made the defense of democracy a hallmark of her work, called out the decision of some in her party to support Gibbs.
“If we’re going to say as a party – or as leaders – that we believe in a healthy democracy, which requires citizens to be informed and to participate, we have to live up to those values in everything we do,” Benson said. in an interview. by the Washington Post. “Interfering with another party’s primaries does not reflect those values.”
She said it is “a dangerous game for anyone to play, as part of some strategy, to support election deniers.”
“That kind of playing the other side is a very risky proposition,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told The Post on Wednesday. “It’s a dangerous proposition for a campaign committee other than to drive Democrats, to try to drive a Republican in a primary. Because they can win in the end and you have someone who is even more extreme.”
Second-guessing from Democrats was taking place before primary day.
“I am ashamed that hard-earned money to support Democrats is being used to support Trump-backed candidates, especially the far-right opponent of one of the most honorable Republicans in Congress,” President Dean Phillips (D-Minn. ) posted on Twitter last week when the ad dropped.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $435,000 on his ada they showed a string of images of Gibbs with Trump and called him “too conservative for western Michigan.” Those apparent criticisms may have struck many Republican primary voters as praise.
Meijer, who is in his first term, earned the ire of Trump and many of his supporters by being one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him after the Capitol uprising.
“The Democrats got the proportion they wanted and in the process threw out one of the few members of the Republican Congress in the House who was willing to stand on principle and stand up for the Constitution. It’s unbelievable,” said Kevin Seifert, a Meijer campaign consultant.
A few hours before he conceded the race on Tuesday night, Meijer told reporters it was too early to tell what effect the announcement had. He called the move a troubling move from a party that has repeatedly warned that Trump and his allies are trying to undermine democracy.
“I know a lot of people — my Democratic colleagues in Washington — have been put off by the cynicism and hypocrisy that’s shown,” he said at a downtown Grand Rapids bar where his supporters had gathered.
I essay posted online on Monday, Meijer accused Democrats of not only helping Gibbs but “subsidizing his entire campaign” because their ads cost more than Gibbs’ campaign in the race, a figure that campaign finance filings show at $334,000. Meijer noted that he has been criticized by Republican Party chapters in his district and that some of his allies have called him a traitor.
“Watching this release inside my party was a blast,” Meijer wrote. “The only thing worse was the ability of my Democratic colleagues to sell out any sense of principle for the sake of political expediency – immediately predicting the downfall of democracy and rationalizing the use of their hard-earned dollars to support the appointed. the object of their fear.”
Hasen, the UCLA law professor, echoed that sentiment.
“Democracy can only be sustained by one party believing in it and helping the other party purge members who support democracy,” he said.
As voters headed to the polls on Tuesday, Gibbs downplayed the ad’s role, insisting that the work of his supporters had given him momentum. He dismissed Democrats’ sense that they could beat him more easily than Meijer in a heavily Democratic district.
“Meijer has lost so much Republican support in the first place that he would not be able to win that general election in November,” Gibbs told reporters outside a community center in byron center in suburban Grand Rapids after casting his ballot. “A lot of Republicans will stay home or not pass their choice on the ballot because of the way he betrayed Republican voters. So it’s completely unselectable in general.”
In November Gibbs will face Democrat Hillary Scholten, who was unopposed in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Scholten lost to Meijer by six points in 2020, but since then, the district has pulled back in favor of Democrats.
Scholten released a statement Wednesday saying “the announcement from the DCCC is exactly the kind of thing that makes me excited about Washington and ready to fight for the people of West Michigan.”
Terri Itter, a sterilization technician at a dentist’s office, cast her ballot for Gibbs on Tuesday at a fire station in Alpine Township, north of Grand Rapids. She said she was troubled by Meijer’s impeachment vote because she didn’t think anyone had done anything wrong on Jan. 6.
As for Gibbs, she said she received a mailer criticizing him for his support for Trump, but she considered that an asset. “I know they think it’s too conservative,” Itter, 59, told Gibbs.
Other voters said Trump’s endorsement had the opposite of its intended effect.
“I’m not a Trump fan,” said Jessica Morgan, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom who considers herself a libertarian.
Gibbs “was very supportive and a firm believer that everything is corrupt and we need to hate our government the way it is,” Morgan said. “And I like to have more faith than that, so Peter Meijer was the safest bet.”
Kris Trevino, who voted in the Democratic primary, said he disagreed with Meijer on many issues but respected his vote to impeach Trump. He hoped to see Meijer best Gibbs, and said he thought Democrats should focus on their own contests instead of helping a candidate they think is willing to take on democracy.
“I personally don’t want anyone endorsed by Trump because I don’t believe the whole election is there,” said Trevino, 29, who works in cyber security. “And so for anyone involved in election denial, I just want them out.”
Tom Hamburger in Washington contributed to this report.